After a rousing introduction to Mr. and Mrs. Jennings in the series premiere of The Americans, the couple’s relatively clear-cut role in the ongoing one-upmanship of the Cold War suddenly took on a less ideal set of characteristics.
‘The Clock‘ illustrated just how the newly elected Ronald Reagan had begun to affect the tempo at which all the various pieces in the spy game moved, forcing the Russians to switch the highly trained, precision instruments of Directorate S into simple, blunt tools. What used to be months of careful preparation now became a few short days of bullying a single mother and poisoning her teenaged son, and ultimately ended with Philip (Matthew Rhys) putting a pillow over the young man’s face until his mother relented.
But the growing tension of the Cold War and the fear of a ballistic missile shield placing Russia’s nuclear arsenal at risk were nothing compared to the sudden haste with which the Jennings’ children, Paige (Holly Taylor) and Henry (Keidrich Sellati), were growing up. Henry casually challenged his father’s authority, resulting in a quick game of driveway hockey, where dad displayed his fatherly muscle by not allowing his kid a chance to score. Meanwhile, Paige received an impromptu ear-piercing from her mother.
By the episode’s end, Philip and Elizabeth (Keri Russell) may have been victorious in getting a microphone inside Caspar Weinberger’s office, but one thing became incredibly clear: They have a life afforded them by the country they are conspiring to destroy, complete with children who are no longer just their cover – they’re the product of this couple’s bizarre union. So, when asked to do “impossible things,” even the hardened Elizabeth agrees that there comes a point where reason and security outweigh panicked necessity. And somehow, through all of that, there seemed to emerge a growing fondness between two people who had been put in another “impossible” situation so many years ago.
During ‘Gregory,’ however, much of that newfound domestic bliss is shattered by the arrival of another desperate situation. For his part, Philip is certainly used to living a lie, but not necessarily used to being lied to, which is why the revelation that his late friend and partner, Rob – who succumbed to a knife wound in the premiere – has a wife and child in Philadelphia that no one ever knew about comes as something of a shock. And, like an expertly struck racquetball to Agent Beeman’s spine, that’s not the only disclosure that’s going to sting.
The potential disaster that is Joyce Ramirez (wife to Rob and mother to their child, Oscar) is further complicated by the unexpected arrival of the fabulous Margo Martindale as the Jennings’ new handler, and the sudden, overwhelming interest of Elizabeth’s former (?) lover Gregory (played by the always-welcome Derek Luke) in making their heretofore-concealed romance known to Philip. Boundaries of all sorts have been crossed, to be sure, calling nearly everything into question as personal entanglements now taint what used to be just part of “the job.”
Despite his propensity for fisticuffs, Philip’s been perceived as the more malleable of the Jennings; he considered Rob a friend – which, in this business, is like loving the wife the Russian government set you up with – and now he’s obliged to see that Joyce and Oscar have something resembling a future, even if it is in Cuba. Gregory wants to kill her, dump her body and be done with it, but after getting an earful of how Philip should let Elizabeth “go,” he’s not about to let Gregory get his hands on someone else’s wife – real or otherwise. Complicating matters further, Rob had been working a contact who supposedly has the plans for the proposed missile shield, and “Granny,” as Philip’s taken to calling Martindale, wants to see that loose end tied up before anything is settled as far as Joyce is concerned.
But regardless of what Philip does, there’s no getting out; it doesn’t matter if someone knows as much as former trunk dweller Timoshev or as little as Joyce – not when major assets of Directorate S are involved. Elizabeth and Philip wave goodbye to Joyce and her infant child, as Martindale assumes her most potent of grandmotherly voices, gently assuring a terrified and confused woman that everything is going to be all right before ominously slamming the door of a windowless van after Joyce has gingerly stepped inside.
It’s not just the Jennings’ domestic life that takes a little ding in ‘Gregory.’ Agent Gaad (Richard Thomas), after singing the praises of his crew at the end of last episode, is stuck wondering how Agents Beeman and Amador (Maximiliano Hernández) could lose the woman the bureau had been tailing in broad daylight. Outside of Nina (Annet Mahendru), Joyce was the first solid lead the FBI had on the mysterious Directorate S, and by episode’s end, Beeman is left staring at Joyce’s lifeless body with a drug needle still sticking out of her arm.
After finding trust in the voice of a kindly older woman, things don’t turn out so well for Joyce. But then Philip is asked by his wife to take some kind, hopeful words to heart: don’t let Gregory’s revelation extinguish the flame they had only recently begun to experience. But in this world of dead drops, poison-tipped umbrellas and suburban spies, it doesn’t really matter if the person is coaxing you into a windowless van in the middle of the night or gently holding your hand in the home you’ve shared for over a decade; at the end of the day (or beginning of it in this case), everyone’s a stranger.
- “Is she Doug Henning?”
- The tiny details that Philip and Elizabeth are sharing with one another, like never being able to afford fancy caviar, or that she was recruited at 17 and had never had a boyfriend, are as dramatically effective as anything else on the show.
- While the episode separated Philip and Beeman for all but an incredibly economic opening scene, the segment managed to do a fantastic job of illustrating their competitive natures, and their shared but unspoken understanding of one another.
- I’m surprised it took them this long to find room for David Bowie’s ‘Young Americans’ to find its way into an episode.
The Americans continues next Wednesday with ‘In Control’ @10pm on FX. Check out a preview of the episode below:
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